TOLEDO, Ohio - J. Russell Coffey, 109, the oldest known surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, has died. The retired teacher was one of only three U.S. veterans from the "war to end all wars."
Mr. Coffey died Thursday at the Briar Hill Health Campus in North Baltimore, where he had lived for the last four or five years, said Gaye Boggs, nursing director at the nursing home. No cause of death has been determined, she said yesterday. His health began failing in October.
"We're sure going to miss him," Boggs said. "He was our most famous resident."
More than 4.7 million Americans joined the military from 1917-1918. Mr. Coffey never saw combat because he was still in basic training when the war ended.
The two remaining U.S. veterans are Frank Buckles, 106, of Charles Town, W.Va.; and Harry Richard Landis, 108, of Sun City Center, Fla., according to the Veterans Affairs Department. John Babcock, 107, of Spokane, Wash., served in the Canadian army and is the last known Canadian veteran of the war.
Interest in World War I survivors grew over the last year as their numbers dwindled. The last living links to the war, the U.S. veterans received honors and did a flurry of interviews.
Mr. Coffey had enlisted in the Army while he was a student at Ohio State University in October 1918, a month before the Allied powers and Germany signed a cease-fire agreement. He was discharged a month after the war ended.
His two older brothers fought overseas, and he was disappointed at the time that the war ended before he shipped out. But he told the Associated Press in April 2007: "I think I was good to get out of it."
Mr. Coffey, who was born Sept. 1, 1898, played semipro baseball in Akron, earned a doctorate in education from New York University, taught in high school and college and raised a family.
He said he loved teaching. "I could see results," he said. "I could see improvement."
He was independent, driving his car until he was 104, his daughter, Betty Jo Larsen, said this year. His wife, Bernice, whom he married in 1921, died in 1993. Larsen, who died in September, was their only child.